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Evolution of Military Satellite Communications in India


Aug 14, 2013
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Evolution Of Milsatcom In India - Defence and Security of India

The nations of the world are concentrating on nuclear, space and information domain for developing comprehensive combat power and Space has emerged as the new strategic ground for positioning assets like satellites and space stations for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), and communications - Davinder Kumar

The modern day battlefield sees a short, intense battle with very high mobility, long range, lethal and precision weapons with significant battlefield transparency in an information rich environment. In this digital battlefield, the side which dominates space, electromagnetic environment and cyber space will be the winner. Consequently, nations, the world over are concentrating on nuclear, space and information domains and their integration as critical areas for developing comprehensive combat power.

Space has emerged as the new strategic high ground for positioning assets like satellites and space stations for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), communications, navigation, weather forecasting, broadcast services for entertainment, education, disaster management and so on. India has performed well in designing, manufacturing and launching satellites to provide these capabilities, concentrating primarily on the social sphere – earth observation, education, meteorology, broadcast services and communications. Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) adopted a twin approach wherein communications, broadcast services and meteorology were provided by INSAT series of satellites and Earth observation services were engineered on Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites.

A satellite system consists of two major components: a space segment comprising the satellite and the launch vehicle and a ground segment consisting of the earth station and the telemetry and tele-command (TT&C) systems. To ensure technological sovereignty, a nation must not only have inherent capabilities in all these spheres but international agreements for TT&C and deep space communications.

Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM) needs are diverse and have additional specific requirements for security and availability of communications. These may include placing of satellites in different orbits, spot beams and beam switching capabilities; emergency launch of satellites; encryption and reduced probability of intercept; ruggedized ground terminals; anti-jamming capabilities; and reduced susceptibility to physical damage to satellites. These capabilities would require very high technological and financial inputs and will have to be developed through indigenous research and development and have a long gestation period. Hence, the universal approach is to use a mixture of commercial and military satellite communications integrated suitably with the terrestrial networks to provide assured and survivable communications. Evolution of MILSATCOM in India has been in accordance with this approach and in support of the strategic imperative that robust satellite communications are absolutely essential to fight and win on the modern day digital battlefield.
Space assets are being used by our defence forces since the nineties for communications primarily to provide redundancy to terrestrial networks as also to reach inhospitable areas where our forces operate. The approach has been to hire the transponder capacity and develop corresponding ground segment with the industry for its exploitation or procure foreign satellite terminals. Directorate of Satellite Applications (DSA), under the Directorate General of Signals was formed sometime in the late eighties to act as a nodal agency for all matters related to satellites and to interact with ISRO and DRDO with operational inputs being ratified by the Directorate General of Military Operations. Indian Navy provided inputs related to search & rescue requirements and the Indian Air Force for surveillance. The Armed Forces used a graduated and multi prong approach to provide satellite communications. While systems like INMARSAT and Iridium were used to meet unclassified communication requirements and to meet international obligations in case of Navy, Very Small Aperture Satellite (V-SAT) Terminals were used for communications with far flung places using transponder capacity hired from ISRO. Later, when it was possible to hire complete transponders, a combination of wide bandwidth connectivity and VSATs were provided. These were integrated with the terrestrial networks in a secure mode to provide connectivity, technically, from a piquet in the forward area to the highest headquarters. Since the transponder capacity was available gradually, as more communication satellites became available, a project oriented approach was followed based on the operational requirement. Concurrently, a concerted drive was launched to train requisite man power to operate and manage these systems. A number of officers did their MTech at the IITs specializing in SATCOM and they formed the nucleus for MILSATCOM in India. Some more were trained at the Space Application Centre. Infrastructure for training by way of satellite communication laboratories and live systems were established at the training institutions.
Dhruva Satellite Network for J&K

A wide band secure mesh satellite network, Dhruva was commissioned in J&K in November, 2004 to connect the Corps Headquarters with each other, Command Headquarters and the Army Headquarters. This network was further integrated with the VSAT network of Northern Command. The unique and innovative feature of this network is the high density pipeline and mesh connectivity using satellite transponders, a concept inducted for the first time in the country.

A state of the art secure communication network, it supports voice, data and video conference facilities in most operational locations in the state. The network also boasts of the world’s highest V-SAT terminal located at an altitude of 18631 feet. This network was later integrated with the Eastern Theatre Satellite Network to provide one of the densest satellite communication networks in the country. The network has been fully integrated with the army’s terrestrial network to increase its range and efficacy with a view to meet the challenges of the digital battlefield of tomorrow.

Project Mercury Flash

A broad band satellite network for the Eastern theatre, Mercury Flash was commissioned in August 2005. The network is integrated with the satellite network of Northern Theatre and links all operational areas of the north east with each other and with army headquarters. It is also integrated with the terrestrial network of the Eastern Theatre and has a very complex and responsive Network Management System.

Project Rohini

Rohini is a static Large Very Small Aperture Terminal (LVSAT) network based on indigenous satellite and secrecy, capable of providing Demand Assigned Multiple Access (DAMA) connectivity for voice, data and video. Commissioned in August 2006, the network is centrally managed and controlled by a powerful Network Management System which helps in exercising control over all remote stations. The availability of this technology-intensive broadband satellite network has not only augmented the communications of the Indian Army but has also enhanced the reliability, robustness and response of our communication infrastructure. This network can be expanded to meet the emerging operational requirement and has interconnectivity with other networks to ensure its optimum exploitation. Successful implementation of Project Rohini with its extensive reach by the Indian Army, Corps of Signals along with Ms HCL Comnet and MS ITI Ltd is a pointer towards effective Public Private Partnership (PPP) for development of communication infrastructure for the defence forces.
The Project was named Rohini in concert with the philosophy adopted by the Indian Army of naming their satellite projects on various mythological celestial bodies, constellations and stars like Dhruva, Sapta Rishi, Akash Ganga and so on.

Indian Navy Satellite Communications

Satellite-based communications have been carried out in the Indian Navy, in a somewhat piecemeal and incremental manner so far. Many of its warships, like the Rajput-class Destroyers, Brahmaputra-class Frigates, Sukanya-class Patrol Vessels, are known to carry INMARSAT-C communication equipment on board, implementation of which was carried by the Tata Communications Ltd & Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL). However, slow data transfer speeds and rising security concerns related to foreign ownership of the satellites were major impediments for further expansion. Exploitation of these was, therefore, restricted to specific narrow band applications, like communications for anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Africa. Many of the ships also use Ku-band VSAT terminals, built by BEL & Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL), using ISRO’s fleet of GSAT-series civilian satellites, a stop-gap arrangement engineered as part of ongoing Project Rukmani. However, due to the predominantly civilian nature of the end-use of these satellites, transponder allocation to the armed forces is limited – shortage of required number of transponders being a problem faced in the civilian domain itself, in India.

Indian Air Force

Indian Air Force mainly depended on their ADGES network based on troposcatter communications. These used very high power and were spectrum inefficient. While most of these have been replaced by high capacity optical fiber network engineered under AFNET project, satellite communications are being used as overlay or to reach far flung areas and to provide redundancy.
With the induction of sophisticated platforms like AWACS and air to air refueling aircrafts, there was an urgent necessity to integrate these with other assets in the air, on the ground and at sea. Special satellite communications were engineered in support of this requirement as high capacity and responsive data links.
With the fielding of these networks, DSA and the Services had gained sufficient experience and confidence. Concurrently, the developing strategic scenario, induction of strategic platforms like AWACS, nuclear powered submarines and the need for synergy both within the Services and at the national level, spurred the demand for an integrated Defence Communication Network (DCN) and dedicated defence satellites.

Defence Communication Network

Defence Communication Network (DCN) was conceptualized by a student at the National Defence College in 1995 as a study project in response to the emerging and futuristic strategic scenario which demanded synergy and ‘jointmanship’ amongst the three Services and other national entities. The same was pursued thereafter for government sanction by the Directorate General of Signals. The Project was awarded to HCL Infosys in early 2013 for development. It is a very complex, pan-India, strategic, hitech communication project to be executed indigenously. It is an exclusive network which will facilitate effective command and control at the national level.
The Project involves setting up of a test bed jointly with the defence forces and thereafter implementing the same in two years’ time. It has a high capacity overlay of satellite communications connecting the strategic locations, Headquarters Integrated Defense Staff (IDS), Strategic Command and the island territories. It will provide redundancy to the fiber optic based terrestrial component of DCN, and support high speed data, voice and video services; it will be fully secure with high grade encryption; and be managed in real time through a very sophisticated Network Management System. It is also planned to be integrated with the ‘Network for Spectrum’ of the Services when available. The facilities will be operated by manpower drawn from the three Services under a joint organization initially under the Project Management Organization for DCN.

Transportable Satellite Terminals

With the fielding of all these satellite communication projects, the defence forces had gained sufficient experience in the designing, operation and management of fixed ground terminals/earth stations. There was, however, an operational requirement to have satellite communications for our strike formations as also for our Special Forces, high altitude patrols and for disaster management. Accordingly, satellite ground terminals based on SUVs and trucks were developed jointly by our PSUs and the Army and fielded successfully. Concurrently, a man pack satellite ground terminal was developed by Ms BEL and fielded to provide single channel, secure voice, facsimile and data services. This came to be known as, ‘suitcase satellite terminal’ – a pointer to the fact that it was housed in a briefcase!
In pursuance of attaining Network Centric Warfare capabilities, the demand for satellite communications in the armed forces is enormous. It is not possible to meet this through hiring of transponders since the civilian requirement has also increased exponentially. Further, due to the anti satellite capabilities with our likely adversaries, it is imperative that our MILSATCOM requirements are met through robust and survivable military satellites. This strategic requirement was accepted by the government and work started in earnest for a defense communication satellite.

GSAT-7/INSAT 4F Indian Military Communication Satellite GSAT- 7, an Indian military satellite, built specially to meet the strategic and operational requirements of the Indian Navy, was launched on board the French launch vehicle Ariane 5 of the European space transportation company on 30 August, 2013 and was placed in its geosynchronous orbit slot at 74 degree East longitude on 14 September, giving a boost to the Indian Navy’s modernisation push to improve space-based communications and intelligence gathering over a wide oceanic region including the country’s landmass and tracking the movements of the enemy across our borders. Built by ISRO, GSAT 7 is the most advanced communication satellite capable of providing a wide range of service spectrum from low bit rate, voice to video and high bit rate data transfer. It has greater potential of integrating the warships, submarines, aircrafts and shore based installations through a highly encrypted data network. With this launch, India has joined the club of the top five countries—US, Britain, Russia, China and France—which have a satellite customized for defence communications.
GSAT- 7 weighs 2550 kgs, has a designed life span of ten years and has four Ku band transponders, one S- band transponder and three UHF/C Band transponders.
The secure and reliable communication channels provided by GSAT-7 satellite, will help the Indian Navy strengthen its blue water combat capabilities in all its manifestations. With its 2000 nautical miles footprint over the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), GSAT -7 will help Indian Navy network all its 140 warships, 13 (?) submarines and 200 aircraft along with its ground based ‘resources and assets.’ Specifically, GSAT-7 will serve as a force multiplier by sharpening Indian Navy’s edge in terms of network centric operations. It will provide the Indian Navy the necessary level of expertise for its seamless integration of communications with other Services and National Command Post. More importantly, the robust communications link up facilitated by GSAT-7 will substantially enhance India’s maritime security over a wide swath of eastern and western flanks of IOR. GSAT-7 provided integrated communication support to both the Eastern and Western Fleets and other naval assets in air, at sea and land during the recently concluded Exercise TROPEX- 2014. GSAT-7 communications space platform is well equipped to serve as a ‘sensitive command post’ in space over IOR and help transform the entire maritime domain awareness of the Indian Navy.
Though built specifically for the Navy, the GSAT-7’s capabilities can be tapped into by the Army and Airforce, as required. The IAF is likely to get its own dedicated satellite, GSAT 7A by next year and that will be followed by an Indian Army dedicated satellite.
A notable aspect of building GSAT 7 is the contribution made by the private industry. While Astra Microwave Products Ltd is reported to have supplied the UHF-VHF pay load, the Haryana based company; SM Creative Electronics Ltd has supplied the coaxial resonators.
Integrated Space Cell
The armed forces are increasingly depending on satellites for communications, aircraft and missile guidance, reconnaissance, surveillance, weather forecasting, disaster management and so on. Most of these capabilities are provided by civilian, dual use and dedicated military assets. This demands a single point authority to synergize the capabilities as also to institute necessary measures to protect our space based assets.

The Government of India has thus established a nodal agency by way of an Integrated Space Cell to
* Oversee the security of its space based military and civilian assets
* Utilize more effectively the country’s space-based assets for military purposes and
* Look into threats to these assets.

It functions under the Integrated Defence Services Headquarters and will be jointly operated by all three Services, the Department of Space and ISRO. It will leverage space technology including satellites, and envisages cooperation and coordination between the three services as well as civilian agencies dealing with space.
With the availability of space based communication assets, the defence forces have acquired sufficient experience in the operation and management of these systems. However, in view of the importance of space based systems and their vulnerability, it is time that defense personnel are involved in the launch and TT&C activities to gain sufficient experience to undertake these in hostile conditions. The Integrated Space Cell will do well to look into this aspect with the urgency it deserves.

Rockwell Collins India Pvt. Ltd., MKR (Ram) Prasad, Managing Director, details the Indian experience:

Q: Can you summarise Rockwell Collins’ 75 years plus experience in aerospace and communications and how does that impact India?

A: Rockwell Collins is a pioneer in the development and deployment of innovative communication and aviation electronic solutions for both commercial and government applications. Our expertise in flight deck avionics, cabin electronics, mission communications, information management, and simulation and training is delivered by nearly 19,000 employees, and a global service and support network that crosses 27 countries.
In India, we are entrenched in the commercial aviation market, providing a wide array of avionics, communications, electronics and services to commercial and business aircraft OEMs and airlines. We provide communication and navigation sets for IAF’s C-130s and C-17s and various helos.

Q: What is the overall strategy behind initiating a design centre in Hyderabad in 2008 with respect to India?

The ongoing excellent performance of the India Design Center is enabling Rockwell Collins to continue to grow the center and our investment in India. Opened in 2008, the India Design Center represents one example of Rockwell Collins’ commitment to expanding our local presence in India. It employs about 600 people, which is up from 400 a couple of years ago. We plan to continue to grow our design center.
The India Design Center supports many programs of interest for Rockwell Collins. Recent examples include: the Airbus A350 on-board Information Management System; cockpit displays for military helicopters; and next-generation Flight Management System platforms.

Q: What is Rockwell Collins’s stance with regard to co-development of such strategic technologies like Software Defined Radios like ARC-210, in India?

A: We have had a long term relationship with HCL and plan to continue that relationship at the same time we are growing our India Design Center. The IDC is a channel for us in the India market and was started to support specific programs in India and from across the globe. We will continue to tap HCL and its talent base to help manage the ebb and flow of projects and programs we have to help manage high volumes of work.
We also formed partnership with AirWorks in India. Air Works is Rockwell Collins’ first Indian authorized reseller and maintenance, repair and overhaul service provider for Rockwell Collins products. As a provider to commercial and business aircraft OEMs and airlines in India, this relationship is a part of our strategy to bring quality products and services to our customers in India.

Q: What role can Rockwell Collins play to support the “indigenisation” drive in the light of procedures stipulated by the Indian Government and restrictions imposed by the USA in sharing of technology?

A: We value India and have set up facilities and expanded our presence here contributing to technology transfer and the economy.
Related to the DPP, we are seeing similar ‘indigenization’ trends in other high growth global markets. Complete focus on building strong partnerships is how we are approaching business opportunities in other areas of the world as well and it seems to be paying off for Rockwell Collins, our partners and the end customers.
Our US government also values India. However, there are still some challenges with bringing some of our products to India. While we plan to win defense business in India working through partners, and are continuing to develop exportable products, we’re also hopeful that India and the US will ultimately come to an agreement regarding communications and information security.

Q: Major communication projects have been approved under “Make India” category. What is your strategy and what role you see for Rockwell Collins in this environment?

A: We fully expect many of the future programs in India to be “make India” programs, so teaming with Indian partners has been and will continue to be a key element in our strategy. During Aero India 2013, we announced our teaming with the TATA Strategic Electronics Division (SED) on an SDR pursuit with the IAF.
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